1919 Race Riots

Episode 29 – The 1919 Race Riots

All too often history repeats itself — with tragic results. During the last 100-years, the killing of one person becomes symbolic and spawns a larger tragedy. Irregularly bubbling to the surface these crises rise from elemental rents and systemic failures in the fabric of society. We call to mind the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25th, 2020 and beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles on March 3rd, 1991 and so on cascading back to the stoning and subsequent drowning of Eugene Williams on July 27th, 1919 off Chicago’s 29th Street Beach.

The violence inflicted on these three men (and countless others) focused outrage to rally outcries, spark civil unrest and riots lasting multiple days. The conditions fanning the flames did not occur in a vacuum nor isolation, but built over time, due to compounding slights, inequality, and oppression. Although intermittent riots sprang up in different eras and regions of the country, the basic facts were the same; Black men were killed or beaten by white policemen or in Eugene Williams’ case, stones thrown and the palpable anger of whites against Blacks caused the drowning of the 17 year-old.

In the aftermath of these deaths and days of violence people asked, “Why did this happen?”

In Windy City Historians podcast Episode 29 – “The Chicago Race Riots of 1919” we explore the conditions of that hot, “Red Summer”, where Chicago, (and other cities) wrestled with the chaos of civil unrest. Through interviews with Claire Hartfield, the author of “A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919”, as well as commentary from Professor Charles Branham, Ph.D. we walk through the riot’s lasting legacy on Chicago, it’s Black community, and the many questions raised by an oppressive summer a century ago. Questions that are still being raised today, more than a century later.

Links to Research and Historic Sources: